PART 3: Your questions about teen reproductive health answered

Finding out about a pregnancy can be a stressful experience, so here are three tips for a pregnant teen. According to school nurse April Armstrong and many other professionals, one of the most important aspects in making a decision on teen pregnancy is having the ability to talk through your options with a confidant. This confidant can be whoever you feel most comfortable with, and he or she should be someone you trust the most.

Infographic by Haley Bayne

Finding out about a pregnancy can be a stressful experience, so here are three tips for a pregnant teen. According to school nurse April Armstrong and many other professionals, one of the most important aspects in making a decision on teen pregnancy is having the ability to talk through your options with a confidant. This confidant can be whoever you feel most comfortable with, and he or she should be someone you trust the most.

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According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), in 2013, there were fewer than five teen mothers in the town of Brookline. Although five may not seem like that large a number, can you imagine even one of your peers being pregnant?

However, according to the MDPH, Brookline’s birth rate is relatively low in comparison to neighboring towns such as Boston, Chelsea and Worcester.

School nurse April Armstrong said that teen pregnancy rates are lower in Brookline than in other towns due to several factors, availability of medical support and general economic stability of residents.

“In terms of where we are in the country, we have a more liberal view on access to contraceptives than other areas of the country, so I think that’s part of it,” Armstrong said. “We also have a high level of access to health care, not only in the North East, but just in the Greater Boston area itself. Economics plays a role in it as well. Being in an area where we’re economically better off than other areas in Massachusetts, we also have better access to health care.”

Social worker Paul Epstein said that he has worked with teen fathers in his years at Brookline High School, and with a teen mother through his previous job at Malden High School.

Epstein, who has two children of his own, said that, once, a male student’s girlfriend’s pregnancy coincided with up with Epstein’s wife’s first pregnancy. Epstein said that the experience was beneficial both for him and his student, especially given the fact that they enrolled in an education fatherhood class together at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“That was one of the coolest experiences of my whole social worker career,” Epstein said. “I had never been a father, and he had certainly never been a father. I searched around, and it was harder than it should be to find a expecting fathers class, a class you could join to learn how to be a dad. We did find one, and we learned everything from the basics of how to change a diaper to more philosophical things about how to parent and manage the stress that comes along with it being a new experience.”

Epstein said that he knows of many high schoolers who have gone to Planned Parenthood to access their variety of resources.

“Pregnancies are not always carried to full term,” Epstein said. “We have had many, many students find their way over to the Planned Parenthood buildings. It is a great, great resource to have. Students go for reasons as simple as getting contraceptives or having a more medical pregnancy test to confirm a store bought pregnancy test. Some students have also gone for an abortion.”

According to an email from Planned Parenthood sent in response to questions from the Sagamore, their organization offers teenagers and adults, guidance and health-related support.

“People of all ages come to Planned Parenthood because they know they will be cared for compassionately and confidentially,” Planned Parenthood wrote in the email. “Planned Parenthood is committed to helping teens make good decisions and engage in healthy behavior. We work every day to reach teens with information about healthy relationships and sexuality, as well as the importance of protecting themselves against both unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.”

According to Planned Parenthood, a teenager who finds herself pregnant needs to be informed of her choices through medical consultations or other trusted mediums, such as Planned Parenthood, and, either before or after hearing her options, have discussions with the people closest to her about her thoughts for the future.

“Ultimately, decisions about whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy or raise a child must be left to a woman, her family and her faith, with the counsel of her doctor and health care provider,” Planned Parenthood said. “A woman should have accurate information about all of her options. Information should support a woman, help her make a decision for herself and enable her to take care of her health and well-being.”

According to Armstrong, the nurse’s office would urge teen parents to share the news of their pregnancy with their own parents, though the nurses, themselves, would not be involved in the discussion between the student and his or her parents.

“We would likely always encourage the students to talk to their family, especially their parents,” Armstrong said. “So it’s not something that we’re going to pick up the phone immediately and call, but it would be something that we would kind of work towards, figuring out the right timing and helping with that bridge of communication if it needed some parents.”

Similarly, Planned Parenthood wrote in the email that pregnant teenagers need to have a strong support system, something that begins with the respected figures in their lives.

“All people deserve accurate information and high-quality health care instead of fear and misinformation,” Planned Parenthood wrote in the email. “It is important for individuals to feel supported in their decisions, which is why we always encourage young people to reach out to a parent or caring adult in their lives if it is safe for them to do so. It is important to support decisions all women make and treat everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Epstein said that, for a male student who impregnated a female student whom he wasn’t in a relationship with, having no say in the decision to keep the child or not can be difficult.

“Some of these relationships we can’t really call relationships at all, to be perfectly honest,” Epstein said. “It may have been a sexual encounter without the accompanying emotional relationship, in which case it is very complicated for the young man to have much of a say in the decision. I think I definitely can recall times where the male students I was working with felt the frustration of not having any control in the decision because it is ultimately the decision of the young woman.”

Another issue teenage parents sometimes struggle with are abusive partners. School nurse April Armstrong said that if a student feels that he or she is in an abusive relationship, sharing that information with trusted friends or adults is key. According to Armstrong, the nurse’s office can be of use to students in this situation by referring them to various outside support centers.

“If you find yourself in a relationship where you feel like there’s a violent nature, that you’re at risk and you can’t get out because you’re afraid what would happen if you tried you, you have to get help,” Armstrong said. “It’s a big theme in colleges. We’re trying to target information to get it out there now, when kids are in high school, so they can recognize the early signs and hopefully recognize it before it gets into a deeper level pattern. You definitely have to get help.”

According to Epstein, although the news of being pregnant may be shocking to a student, it is important for them to weigh all of their options and not make a rash decision.

“My advice for a female student who is pregnant and who has no idea what to do would be, after the initial freak-out, which is kind of inevitable, to sit with a person or persons who they really trust and respect,” Epstein said. “She should talk through the decision and look at each from every angle, considering the ramifications of carrying a baby to term versus ending the pregnancy. There are so many factors that go into making that decision.”

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